Four referendum questions fail to pass on low turnout (update)

12/19/2021 12:45 AM
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CNA photo Dec. 18, 2021
CNA photo Dec. 18, 2021

Taipei, Dec. 19 (CNA) Taiwanese voters on Saturday narrowly rejected the four referendum questions put to them in a national vote characterized by a relatively low turnout and nearly identical vote margins on almost all four issues.

They were the first national referendums held independently of central or local government elections.

The four questions voted on included whether the long-mothballed Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei should be unsealed for commercial operations and whether a ban on the import of pork containing traces of the controversial feed additive ractopamine should be reinstated.

The other two issues involved the fate of a liquefied natural gas terminal being built near an algal reef in Taoyuan and whether future referendums should be held concurrently with national elections.

The number of people who supported each of the four referendum initiatives were outnumbered by those who opposed them by narrow margins ranging from 2.08 to 5.68 percentage points, according to Central Election Commission (CEC) data.

The votes cast in opposition to each of the questions were 4,163,464 (conservation of algal reefs), 4,120,038 (referendums), 4,131,203 (pork imports), and 4,262,451 (nuclear power), surprising close given a fairly wide disparity in opposition to the different issues in opinion polls.

Voter turnout was 41.09 percent, including the invalid votes, the data showed.

Commenting on the result of the votes at a Cabinet press conference Saturday evening, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said the failure of the four referendums was testament to the public's support for the government's policies on pork imports and energy transition.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had campaigned intensively using government resources for a "no" vote in all of the referendums.

Meanwhile, Eric Chu (朱立倫), chairman of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), apologized to party members after all four KMT-supported referendum proposals -- including two directly initiated by the party -- failed to pass.

Chu said he believed that the similarity in the final tallies across the board suggested the results were less indicative of an issues-based referendum and more akin to a "caged plebiscite" that had harmed the country's democracy.

The New Power Party (NPP), which had backed three initiatives but were opposed to the one on nuclear power, said in a statement that the party respected the result of the national vote.

The NPP said, however, that the relatively low turnout had showed that mobilization by the two major parties for votes in favor of their positions had failed and been rejected by the public.

On the other hand, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-che (柯文哲), who also chairs the Taiwan People's Party (TPP), accused the DPP of spending NT$58 million (US$2.07 million) on its referendum campaign, without providing details.

At the same time, the TPP also criticized the government for spreading misinformation, mentioning in particular that it had deliberately compared opposition to pork imports containing ractopamine to an "anti-U.S. pork" stance.

Taiwan has allowed U.S. pork imports for years as long as the meat did not contain any traces of ractopamine, which is banned for use in most countries of the world, including Taiwan, because of its risks to animals and humans.

The DPP government recently dropped a ban on pork imports with ractopamine, and the referendum was hoping to overturn that decision.

In Saturday's polls, the TPP supported the two questions on pork imports and protecting the algal reef while opposing the other two.

Of the four referendums, the one on pork imports has been of particular interest to the United States because it has considered Taiwan's previous rejection of imports of U.S. pork containing ractopamine as an impediment to trade.

It had blocked talks under the bilateral Trade & Investment Framework Agreement until Taiwan began allowing imports of pork with ractopamine on Jan. 1, and the referendum was aimed at overturning the government's decision.

Asked to comment on the referendum result, an American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) official did not respond directly, saying only that the U.S. hoped to continue to strengthen trade ties.

"We will continue to seek constructive engagement with Taiwan on issues that affect exports of U.S. food and agricultural products, as we do in all areas of our trade relationship," the AIT official said.

(By Teng Pei-ju, Kay Liu, Frances Huang, Wang Yang-yu and Chen Yi-hsuan)

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